The Breasts of Tiresias

by Pericles Lewis

Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term “surrealist” for his play, The Breasts of Tiresias (1917). In the play, set in Africa, a Frenchwoman, Thérèse, decides to become a man, and her breasts float away like two balloons; she is renamed Tiresias and becomes a general and a member of parliament. Between the first and second acts, her abandoned husband gives birth to over 40,000 children, all in one afternoon. Tiresias was a central figure in modernist attempts to explore sexual identity, playing a notable role in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Ezra Pound’s Cantos (1919-1970), and Virginia Woolf‘s Orlando (1928), about a man who becomes a woman and lives for over three hundred years.[1]

  1. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp. 197-198.